Uber’s March 2018 Fatal Pedestrian Crash Raises Safety Questions

Posted in Current News,Self-Driving Car Accidents on April 3, 2018

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey sent Uber Technologies Inc. a strongly worded letter on March 26, 2018, after the death of a pedestrian who was struck by a driverless SUV earlier in the month. The governor described what he called “unquestionable failure to comply” with safety procedures.

In the letter, which was addressed to Uber Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi following the March 18 accident, Ducey said video of the collision released last week by police in Tempe, near Phoenix, “raises many questions about the ability of Uber to continue testing in Arizona.”

“Improving public safety has always been the emphasis of Arizona’s approach to autonomous vehicle testing, and my expectation is that public safety is also the top priority for all who operate this technology in the state of Arizona,” Ducey wrote. “The incident that took place on March 18 is an unquestionable failure to comply with this expectation.”

Uber Puts Testing of Self-Driving Cars on Halt!

Uber responded by pointing out that it has already suspended its entire testing program across North America. In a statement posted to the Twitter account of Uber’s communications team, the company also pointed out that it had suspended testing of all self-driving vehicles in the four cities where it had been underway, such as:

  • San Francisco
  • Pittsburgh
  • Phoenix
  • Toronto

The video released by police last week shows the Uber vehicle, a 2017 Volvo XC90 SUV that was operating in autonomous mode, striking and killing Elaine Herzberg, 49, as she crossed the street walking a bicycle with her. The SUV didn’t slow down or alter its course to avoid her, the video shows.

Autonomous Driving Fatal Pedestrian Crash Calls For Investigation By The National Transportation Safety Board

An engineering analysis of the collision shows that the Uber vehicle was traveling northbound on Mill Avenue near the intersection with Curry Road in Tempe. The video shows the Uber vehicle traveling in the #2 lane (i.e., the slower of the two lanes in the area). The pedestrian was walking her bicycle apparently from the median. Using still frames, one from the video about 3 seconds in, and another from Google Street View showing the area, dimensions of the roadway in that location can be determined. The pedestrian walks approximately 40 feet before being hit. Taking a normal walking speed (generally estimated that 3 mph ) the pedestrian was in the roadway for at least 9 seconds before being hit. This is an extremely long period of time. In most accident reconstruction scenarios, experts typically testify that an alert driver needs only 1 ½ seconds to perceive and react to danger by stopping. Here, there was more than enough time for an attentive human driver to perceive and react to the pedestrian, avoiding her death.

The notion that an ordinary human being could have avoided this accident whereas the radar and lidar of this vehicle failed to see, perceive and avoid this tragedy raises serious safety questions-especially for all of those who claim that driverless systems are ready for implementation. It is quite clear that a longer more thorough examination is in order.

Indeed, even the inclusion of a human driver as a “safeguard” did not fix the problem with this vehicle’s inability to avoid a pedestrian in plain view. The reality is that the “safeguard” human at the wheel did precisely what one would expect: if you are not driving, you are not paying full attention. As a result, the video shows that the “safeguard” human at the wheel spent many seconds looking away from the road.